By Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The long-pursued proposal to allow casino-style gambling at Minnesota horse-racing tracks finally got a hearing Thursday in a state House committee, but is showing little momentum just over two weeks from the end of the legislative session.

Backers want slot machines at Canterbury Park in Shakopee and Running Aces in Columbus. They’ve promised that could raise $125 million a year in new tax revenue, which under the latest proposal would pay for job-creation initiatives.

The proposal has lingered for years at the Capitol, always thwarted by opposition from tribal casinos and gambling opponents. Supporters hoped openness to the racino proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton would give it new life this year, but it’s yet to get backing from a single House or Senate committee.

The House Jobs and Economic Development Committee reviewed the proposal Thursday, but didn’t vote on it. A scheduled hearing the night before in a Senate committee was canceled entirely; the bill’s lead Senate sponsor said the absence of several members left him short of the votes needed to pass it through.

“If it doesn’t happen this year, we can talk about it again next year,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. “It will happen at some point, when the conditions are right.”

Senjem cautioned he’s not giving up on the racino push for this session. He said it could still be a piece of a global agreement between Dayton and Republican legislative leaders to fill the state’s projected $5 billion budget shortfall, though so far none of the top Republican leaders have publicly embraced the bill.

Senjem said he has discussed details of the bill with members of Dayton’s administration, giving him hope the governor might still be willing to throw more support behind it. Senjem argued it’s more achievable than several other, more far-reaching proposals to expand gambling in the state: proposals for a casino in downtown Minneapolis, and another to allow slot machine-style video terminals in bars.

“This is two sites in Minnesota that already exist, and already have gaming,” Senjem said. “That’s a nice incremental step, a way to test the waters.”

At the House hearing Thursday, several state and local economic development officials got behind the bill’s proposal for a dedicated fund to bankroll efforts to attract and retain jobs.

“We need the ability to compete,” said Mark Lofthus, director of business and community development at the Department of Employment and Economic Development. He said most of Minnesota’s neighbors pump far more state money into economic development.

Still, Lofthus said his agency is neutral on whether the racino proposal is the best way to fund such efforts.

But tribal officials said expanded gambling would hurt their own jobs.

Karen Diver, chairwoman and CEO of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in northeastern Minnesota, said casino-style games at the tracks would harm tribal casinos.

“We know from our industry that the pie will not get bigger, it will just be cut into smaller pieces,” said Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which runs Black Bear Casino near Cloquet. “There will be diminishment in Indian country.”

Former state senator Dick Day is the president of “Racino Now,” the lobbying group pushing to add gambling at the tracks. AT the House hearing, he expressed frustration at the seeming lack of legislative support.

“The governor is with us, we’ve got bipartisan support,” Day said. “People are sitting out here saying what’s going on?”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (30)
  1. Bob says:

    Let’s go taxpayers write your politicians , let’s get some free money!!! There is no negatives to this bill!

    1. Patricia Ann says:

      this is an idea whos time has come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Spurgen says:

    Minnesota needs a smoke free casino. Think of the billions that we will save on health costs by having a place for us non-smokers to enjoy some casino fun without the health problems of second hand smoke. This would also be good for those slot players who are thying to quit. The health cost savings will drawf any revenue generated. Win Win for all. thanks you.

    1. rich says:

      You mean you can smoke in a minn. casino? I thought we were a totally smoke free state? Oh thats right i forgot what group owns the casinos,us “whiteys” owe them so we have to let them do whatever they want

  3. Bob says:

    I just spoke to the pine county commissioner! He is against it because Hinkley casino gave 100k to the sheriffs office! He is a elected official to work for the taxpayers of Minnesota , and doesn’t want 100 million free dollars . They are crooks hi name is steve chaffe 320-980 -2023

  4. Racino - don't need it, don't want it says:

    We don’t need to add gambling problems to our budget problems. “Free money” and “no negatives to this …” is foolishness.

    1. Kally says:

      Like Steve Chaffe you too must be in the back pocket of the tribe… if gambling is such a problem like you think then you should try to get all the indian casinos shut down or tell us your real reasons why we should not end the casino monopoly.

    2. Truth says:

      But the +’s outweight the -‘s!

  5. Bobby says:

    How would slot machines add to our budget problems?

  6. Dave says:

    I think the politicians are mostly paid off by the tribes. Lets face it the tribes are the only ones making money in this recesion. I am all fot a little competion to benifit the state.

  7. Build it says:

    They should build the casino in out state MN so they are not all clumped up in the twin cities. Out state MN need jobs. Without running to the cities with the gas prices so high

    1. captainobvious says:

      most casinos are outstate lol, u think 1hour drives are metro casinos? dolt

  8. Teas Loves the Racino says:

    I own CANTERBURY stock!!!! COME ON RACINO!!!!

    It’s about TIME the Indian Casinos had some competition! Ok OK, I know they do “great things” but when there are thousands of people that do NOTHING but sit on their butt and get $25,000 a MONTH for being American Indian, while other American Indians are homeless in the streets, is that FAIR?

    The Racino would produce tax revenue, jobs, and an equal playing field!

    I am 100% FOR IT!

  9. Ali says:

    I also want a smoke free casino to work in. I would like to get a new job at a state run smoke free casino. Many of my co-workers would also like to work in a new state run smoke free casino.

    1. Roxy says:

      I am soo with you , I would love a job in a smoke free casino. It would be a blast. Why is this not going to pass?I have been out of the loop…

      1. Keith says:

        Me too. I not planning for to get a job but I want to gamble it in smoke-free environment.

  10. Uncle Tom says:

    Sticking it to the Indian Again, Just another thing that Native Americans had and they go and take it away from them.

  11. bob says:

    Injuns will be all right.

  12. Oops, stepped in it again did ya? says:

    Who said slot machines would add to our budget problems? Those who are illiterate should concentrate on learning language skills before they get too deep in the conversation.

  13. Roxy says:

    The natives do not want to share the pie? I bet they like the roads we all built them to get to there casinos. They have to be kidding me.

  14. Al says:

    Maybe we can all bring a gun in there!!

  15. G. Washington says:

    Racino = GOP doesn’t want to raise taxes on the rich folks. Better to prey upon the weak and vulnerable.

  16. RACINO YES!!!!! says:


  17. Kevin D. says:

    why does everyone want a racino so bad? so that you guys can take away the tribal gaming from us indians? thats pretty messed up if you ask me. you guys already killed off our ancestors and took our land from us and now this ? pathetic.

  18. Brian A. says:

    If the racino is such a bad idea, and will cost people jobs. Nows the time to strike up a deal and trade off the racino bill for a tax on the income from the casinos. I see it as a win win no lost jobs, and an income from the millions that flow through the casinos every year. Everyone elce pays taxes why not the casinos?

  19. Doreen Olson says:

    I say put it to the voters …Us the Minnesota taxpayer.. Let us decide whether or not we should have gambling that will benefit the State of Minnesota…..This is not a question for the legislature because they REALLY do not know what the taxpayer wants!!!

  20. captainobvious says:

    As i stated 10times, if indians grease the right politicans pockets this has no chance, if they don’t it happens

  21. Steve says:

    Right on, Dorreen. Come on politicians. Let us decide. Why are you making decisions for us? It is a no-brainer. Somebody is paying somebody off. Mystic keeps adding slot machines every time I go out there. They must be doing OK. Competition is good. If you don’t do Racino, going to have to tax the wealthy. Go Racino.

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